The Abode of Clouds- Meghalaya
Amazing Meghalaya literally lives up to its name: the abode of clouds! Lush green foliage and undulating hills stand wrapped in a veil of fluffy white clouds. Meghalaya emerges like a freshly bathed bride drenched in its famed monsoon. My first visit to the North East in its’ chilly winters was mesmerizing and well-timed. My vacations often reflect my love for imbibing, absorbing, sustainability and social causes. This trip to Meghalaya made for magical memories, well-worth sharing!
If you are adventurous and looking to commune with nature, Meghalaya is the ideal choice of destination: gushing waterfalls, babbling brooks and mysterious dark caves rub shoulders with craggy rocks and lofty mountains, kissed by pine-fresh scented air. The monsoon season stretches between June-September and is the ideal time to visit this enigmatic state if you want to soak in the beauty of cascading waterfalls. The distinct culture and flavour of Meghalaya makes it a “must-visit” once-in-a-lifetime!
In order to reach Meghalaya, we landed in Guwahati (Assam) and drove straight to Shillong, savouring the picturesque and breathtaking scenery en route. I was on a recce trip and my dear friend, Nayna joined me. We both enjoyed exploring the Scotland of India together! The sun sets around 4pm so an early start is well recommended and the best way to get around is to hire a car for the entire day. Meghalaya is a slice carved out of Assam, to create a state, home to the Jaintia, Khasi and Garo ethnic tribal groups.
Shillong’s double decker Root Bridge is quite a marvel to behold. Made from the roots of rubber trees, these bridges built by the Khasis have proven to be more durable than wooden bridges. Our fit-as-a-fiddle guide Lumlang, all of 21 years, led us like a mountain goat as we trekked towards this bridge, which took about 3 to 4 hour to complete. We suggest you stay light and don’t forget to carry a water bottle in your back pack, since the trek downhill is long, winding and sinuous. It also entails an exhausting 3000 steps each way!
We enjoyed a leisurely forest walk through Mawphlong’s Sacred Groves, spread over 80 hectares, and over 1000 years old. Giant megaliths create an imaginary boundary of sorts.The Khasis were animists who believed in the spirits of the forest. Here the stone altars are smothered in green moss. Every village had its very own Sacred Grove, used to worship elements of nature and perform sacrifices. Our guide regaled us with local fables and stories shrouding the male and female rocks. Mawphlang is one of the last surviving Sacred Grove.
Mawlynnong is renowned as “Asia’s Cleanest Village” perhaps as a result of a literacy rate of 90%! Home to Khasis, the population is largely Christian and follows the matrilineal system. Quaint church spires dot the hillsides. Interestingly the village encourages rain water harvesting and plays host to a variety of agricultural produce, including betel nut, succulent pineapples and juicy lychees. It is also famous for the unusual sight of a boulder balancing precariously on a small rock. Smoking and polythene are banned in the village.
Our 80km long drive to Dawki was scenic, but no match for the enchanting lake we saw! The Umngot (or Dawki) river boasts of unbelievably crystal-clear waters, that appear more like a sheet of transparent glass, with jewel tone shimmers of emerald, amethyst and sapphire. A boat ride across the river gives one the feeling of being afloat with the bed of the river clearly visible, as also the colourful fish and water snakes it plays host to. The more adventurous could dive in for a swim. It was truly a mesmerizing experience!
Spectacular waterfalls are the pride of Meghalaya. Cherrapunjee translates as the land of oranges and is known as the wettest place on earth. The Nohsngithian better known as the Seven Sisters waterfall is a marvel to behold: a bevy of seven segmented waterfalls cascade down the hills, believed to represent each of the seven states in the North East. We were amazed at its unparalleled beauty, enhanced by splashing sprays of droplets glistening like polished diamonds in the sun.
We enjoyed a spectacular view from Laitilum Canyon near Cherrapunjee. A strenuous but scenic hike led us to the Nohkalikai Falls, the tallest plunge waterfall in India. A half hour walk ended at the three-tiered waterfall, Wei Sadong. The plunge pool is perfect for a quick, cool dip! Elephant Falls gets its name from an elephant shaped rock originally found near the falls. Other notable waterfalls include Byrdaw, Sweet, Bishop, Beadon, Rainbow and Wahrashi Falls. You are sure to fall in love with the numerous waterfalls, just like we did!
We gazed in wonderment at the Mawsami Caves, which are known for their unique limestone formations. The monotony of the dark and mysterious interiors was broken by jagged and luminous stalactites and stalagmites. A quick stop at the “Whistling Village” was an eye-opener. The villagers follow the practice of Jingrwai Iawbei, where every individual has a unique tune attached to his name! Wards Lake, Lady Hydari Park and Don Bosco Centre for indigenous culture are also worth a visit, time permitting.
Shillong is paradise for hearty shoppers, with its array of indigenous handicrafts. The bustling Police Bazaar is a tourist favourite for anything from fluffy woolies and street food to cane and bamboo products. The local people are warm and welcoming, and English is well understood across the state. Time stands still in this region, there is no relevance between the distance and time for travelling as it depends upon the conditions of roads and congestion of traffic. Travel plans can often get derailed, so plan for delays!
Vegetarian food is available almost everywhere, whilst meat-lovers are sure to find irresistible options to gorge on. Their staple food consists of rice with spicy meat, pork or fish. Try local delicacies like tung rimbaye (fermented soyabean) and pickled bamboo shoots. Jadoh is made with rice and meat and is popular street food. Sakin Gata is a favourite dessert made from steamed sticky rice and sesame seeds. For long road trips it would be wise to carry packed food / fruit/water with you.
Pointers for travellers to Meghalaya…
· Get set to walk, walk and walk! It is important to be physically fit.
· Woollen clothing, jackets, layered clothing and umbrellas are a must.
· If you are unable to sacrifice your comfort then Meghalaya is not for you.
· Adventure enthusiasts will find November-February, the best time to visit.
· Hikers, campers and trekkers can explore the remotest corners in dry winters.
· Travel light! Roof-top carriers in vehicles are not permitted to carry heavy luggage.
· Be prepared for parking problems! Most cities and tourist spots have parking issues.
· Blush pink in November with pink and white blossoms at the magical cherry blossom festival
Our trip to Meghalaya transported us to magic kingdom….
Well-worth exploring, it is sure to put you on cloud nine!
If you are tempted to visit Meghalaya, allow us to put together a customized itinerary for you and make your vacations better! Get in touch…